Proposals for Creative Work

Admittedly, the proposal is not the most exciting part of the creative project process. More people will ask to see the new training video or marketing animation than will ask to read your proposal.  But having a strong proposal foundation can be the difference between project success and disaster.  The time you spend developing your proposal and project agreement is time you won’t have to waste later trying to figure out why your project doesn’t reflect your expectations.

A strong proposal can also help all of the project team members – from inside the company to outside vendors, from marketing to engineers, from training to customers – share a common vision of the project goal.  The “project cartoon” is one famous example of showing how many people talking about the very same project can really mean many different visions (or projects).

project cartoon

The below check list of proposal elements is based on my unique work experience in formal project management and 18+years in creative services.


1. Creative project description and/or notes: most likely, there have been communications with you and the vendor prior to a proposal. The proposal should include meeting notes, key creative requirements, delivery parameters and other information exchanged during the prior conversations.  This information in your proposal has two benefits: confirmation of the information exchanged to date, and validation that your vendor is LISTENING to your input.

2. Project responsibilities list for the Client and for the creative provider: the “who is doing what.”  For example, don’t assume that your vendor will write all original content…because they may assume they can just use your existing PowerPoint slides.  Have a clear listing of the core project responsibilities up front so that you don’t have “but I thought you were going to…” happen later in your project.

3. Scope of work description of the tasks, equipment, and work types: scope creep is a danger that projects of any type face and creative projects are no different.  The proposal should include parameters that shape the schedule, deliverables, and technical requirements of the creative work.  Are there video components? Will it be delivered as a stand along file to post in your LMS or a video to publish on YouTube?  Is a website part of the project?  Should it match existing branding or have a new visual style?  Project parameters in the proposal ensure the project goals are achievable in the stated timeline and budget.

4. Contact information: does the proposal include contact information for the document and company?  This may seem pretty basic, but it is a detail that can be lost in the shuffle. You want to know the person you can contact about the project at all stages, and a generic email address or 800-number isn’t the same.  You deserve personal attention, and a real live human being that you can contact.

5. Formal written signature approval: handshakes and email approvals are great, but not legally binding. The formal signature section enforces the importance of the agreement and often triggers people actually READING what they are going to approve (which can lead to further clarification and better communications).  When you ask someone to SIGN your proposal, it gives your project legitimacy.

6. Who, What, When, How: the proposal should contain the information that answers all four of those questions.  Who is doing what, How your creative media is made, When it will be done, What you get at the end.  Now, the qualifier is that all of those questions may not have definitive answers at the project start – after all, if the CEO wants the project, you probably will start the project and then find out some of the answers.  However, you can put in the information known at the time, and include general parameters before more specifics are locked down.

The proposal is often the first deliverable provided to you by the agency, and it should provide a high-level description of the work and services you are purchasing, without locking you into a specific creative treatment.  That is to say, the creative project should be described to the point where you are confident in your purchase, but still have room for changes down the road.


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